Monthly Archives: January 2017

Thank you God, for America

Friday, January 20, 2017 was historic.  It was another chapter for the history books.  Not so much about “who” but about what.  Once again, in the midst of insane protests and chaos that has the world captivated, we demonstrated how we, Americans, rise up each and every time.   The peaceful transfer of power was demonstrated for all to see.

I want to take a few moments today and reflect.  This is the fifth time (that I can remember) watching this awesome event, and yes, each time it’s awesome and inspiring.  Though my candidate may not always be on that platform, I still find myself praising my God for blessing me and this nation.  I was born in the greatest land on earth.  Why is it the greatest?  Because we are free.  Free the way God intended man to be.  Free to choose, free to love, free to serve.  Many will argue that our freedoms are an illusion, but I truly believe we enjoy the most freedom of any other nation or people.  Because of that freedom, I can freely choose to worship God in the most intimate way.  Thank you Lord for that blessing.

When big events happen, I am a social reader.  I find reactions very interesting.  Yesterday was a day full of many mixed reactions.  There are many questions up in the air. Will he be a good leader?   Will he change from his past ways and views towards women, minorities, etc.?  Will he spend all his time trying to undo what his predecessor did?  Will he finally begin to restore a true national pride?  So many questions that really have no answer, just speculation at this point.  That’s what made reading some of the reactions so heart-breaking.  So many people expressed deep sadness, deep fear.  These people lamented that they knew exactly what this guy was going to do, and we were all headed for repression, despair, and divisiveness.  How do we know that?

God knew from the very beginning of us that we would worry.  There are many passages that specifically address human worry.  One of my favorites, that fit so well yesterday, is “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight,” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).  I also enjoy and find comfort in, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).  What great comfort – in Jesus Christ.  I can think of no better time in anyone’s life to draw closer to God and learn to walk in faith in Him than when you are anxious and worried about something that is out of your control.

Many people may be worried about what President Trump is going to do, going to let happen, going to set as precedent and so forth.  But let’s turn to God with our fear and put our worries on Him and look to the future with optimism.  Who knows what the future holds.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding – Proverbs 3:5[/pullquote]  The same God that we pray to for comfort when we are scared is the same God that, in His divine wisdom, allows world leaders to rise to power. He has this and will use President Trump just as He used President Obama.  I’ll admit, I shared many of the worries and fears that people are going through, 8 years ago.  Some of what I feared came to pass, but so much of it didn’t.  Be optimistic and look to the future for your opportunity to be involved.  If the past 8 years have taught us nothing, it should have taught us this, we need to learn to love. Not just because we’re American, or one party versus another, but because Jesus commanded it.  He said there is nothing greater than love.  We are to love one another and serve one another.

I will pray for President Trump just as I prayed for President Obama.  I will respect the office even when I don’t agree with the holder.  I will find comfort, regardless of the situation, in a God that has all of this in the palm of His hand.  Today is a new day.  How will you love those around you and serve them for His glory?

Father, thank you for blessing me by allowing me to call this home.  Thank you for giving me the best environment to find you and serve you, freely.  Forgive me for not doing it more and without hesitation.  I pray for our leaders.  I pray for President Trump and his family. I pray he will look to you for influence and direction as he leads our nation.  I pray for your comfort and peace to be on those that are in you, but worried.  I pray for the hearts of those that don’t know you, that in their despair and worry, they would open their hearts and find peace in you.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Caught in the middle

Somewhere between the hot and cold.
Somewhere between the new and the old.
Somewhere between who I am and who I used to be.
Somewhere in the middle, you’ll find me.

These are the opening lyrics to Casting Crowns hit song Somewhere in The Middle.  I have listened to this song several times in the past, but more recently, the lyrics have really hit a little deeper.  It’s funny how God can get a hold of your heart and all of a sudden, songs, stories and verses have a different impact.  This song speaks about the struggle of a lukewarm lifestyle.  Being caught in the middle of what once was, and what should be is one of the toughest struggles I have ever known.

The next statement on the profile of the lukewarm is this: Lukewarm people love God, but they do not love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength.  They would be quick to assure you that they try to love God that much, but that sort of total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries.

Wow.  Just think about that for a few minutes.  Better yet, chew on that idea for a few days.  I love God, but not enough to give him all of me.  That’s what we’re saying if we find ourselves reflected in this statement.  Now, the classic Sunday School statement to this would be, “Jesus died for you, you should be willing to do the same.”  In one sense, that is exactly what we should be willing to do.  We owe Him that much.  We are human, and we love ourselves just a little bit to much to do that – most of the time.  There are great martyrs for the faith that have given their very lives for the sake of the gospel.  What a testimony that would be.  But I think Jesus is more interested in us willingly giving him access to our whole life – loving Him enough that we don’t hide anything from Him.  We speak up and defend our love of Him.  We pour ourselves into His Word, and never miss a day to stop and pray and talk with Him.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I love God, but not enough to give him all of me.[/pullquote] We choose Him over us – every time, no questions asked.  When we make decisions, we stop and consider the eternal perspective.  We base our life choices on His glory, not our own.  That is the devotion I think Jesus wants from us.  The best part is this – we can do it!  We don’t have to be some super Christian with a fancy title.  God gifts us all uniquely, just the way He wants us to fit into His perfect plan.  When we commit our life to Him – and that’s what you’re doing when you ask Him to save you, we are dying to ourselves so we can live in Him.  Remember, there really is no half way – He deserves all of us.

Looking back, I am ashamed at how I have used excuses such as, “it must be easier to be closer to God when you are a pastor, because that’s your job, to study, learn and preach.”  Shame on me.  Just because I am not working in full-time ministry doesn’t mean I can’t be full-time committed to a life that is all about Jesus.  His job for all of us is pretty simple.  Love me, follow me, live for me, and tell others about me.  When He is the object of our affection and He consumes our thoughts, and is the one we base all our choices and decisions on, then we’ll experience the type of love and relationship He intended from the very beginning.

It’s time to stop making excuses.  It’s time to stop being comfortably caught in the middle.  Jesus has amazing patience, and exercises a short memory.  Have you been living a life in the middle?  Have you been playing it safe behind empty excuses?  What will you do about it?  Me, I leaving the comfort of the middle and running to the deep love of a fully committed relationship with Christ.  Matthew 22:37-38 says, “Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.”  Jesus laid down His life for me.  That’s love.  How can I choose to do anything other than love Him with everything He gave me?

Lord, thank you for the blessing of a life committed to you.  Thank you for never leaving me, and never turning away from me, even when I hung back in the middle.  I pray you will forgive me for not being fully committed to you, in all areas of my life, with my entire being.  I commit to you, all of me.  I lean on you for my everything, and I boldly move forward with eyes fixed on you.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Are you changed?

When I was a child, I told a lie.  There it’s out there.  I have been waiting to confess this sin for almost 30 years now.  In reality, I told many lies.  It’s what kids tend to do, and unfortunately, many don’t change as they grow.  Trying to think back (and it’s getting farther and farther back there), I wanted to remember why I lied.  Of all the instances that I could recall, most of the time, the lie was simply because I didn’t want to get in trouble for what I did wrong.  For example, “did you brush your teeth?”  Remembering clearly that I did not, I quickly spat out, “yes.”  I feared the consequences of failing to do what I was supposed to do, or I simply did not really want to put forth the effort to do what was right.  So, I lied.  It was easier.  Obviously, I see now that every time I lied (mostly) I was caught and the consequences were much worse than simply being told to go back and do it.  As I got older, I started to see, not only the immediate consequences, but also the long-term effects such as the trust my parents had with me.  I began to change my outlook.  Today, I can’t just go out and tell lie.  It’s not in me – to be alright with that behavior.

The next statement about the lukewarm Christian seems to relate somewhat.  Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved FROM their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin.  They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them.  They don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one.

Major eye-opener here.  This is especially important when you are dealing with “habitual sin”.  Habitual sin is just like it sounds – sin that has become a habit.  This could be using foul language.  It could be an addiction to pornography. It could be lying.  Whatever it is, it is all-consuming.  The problem with this – especially for the “lukewarm” is that often this sin that is repetitive goes unnoticed, or doesn’t seem to bother the person.  They do it without any thought about the here and now.  Only when they are quietly reflecting on their heart and start to think about the penalty of sin – according to the Bible – do they become sorrowful for the sin.  The book of Romans is probably my favorite book.  It is clear-cut and straight to the point.  “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2 NIV).

We are dead to sin!  Christ changes us so that sin and its temporary pleasures are foreign to us.  That statement doesn’t mean it’s not still there, and doesn’t mean that we won’t ever trip up again, but it means that our “new heart” can’t tolerate it.  This is a serious litmus test.  If you are able to sin without any regard for the here and now, only thinking about what it means in the end – there should be major red flags.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We are dead to sin!  Christ changes us so that sin and its temporary pleasures are foreign to us.[/pullquote]

I still sin.  I live in the sinful flesh and I give it to it sometimes – more than I want to.  But I hate it.  I detest it.  Sometimes, I hate it immediately, and pray for forgiveness right where I am.  Other times, I come to realize what I have done, and again am sorrowful.  Not because I am worried about what Jesus will say to me at the end of my life, but  because I know that Christ died for me so that I can live right now.  This sorrow is sometimes short-lived (I am human and I continue to mess up daily).  But I am conscious to it and I strive everyday to do those things that Christ has given me the power to do, so that I can avoid my sinful nature.

It took me a while to see it, but this new life is so much better than the old one.  I am alive.  I am alive in Christ Jesus.  I have purpose in my life and I have freedom.  Because of Jesus Christ, I can see beyond today.  My heart is full because of the opportunity to live for Him and to share Him with all those around me.  I can be me.  That is the best feeling of them all.  I don’t have to try to be 100 different things, I can just be me, loving Jesus everyday.

So which side are you on?  We are all sinners.  (Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God).  But are you a sinner when no one is looking, or the “right” people aren’t looking and fine with that?  Or are you a sinner that falls on their knees daily seeking to flee your sinful habits?  Did you say a prayer and ask Jesus to live in your heart so you would be “good to go” someday, or did you ask Jesus to live in your heart – today and everyday until you are called home?  I firmly believe that Christ changes us when we are saved.  We are no longer able to “tolerate” our sin.  We have no lasting joy in that life anymore.

Time for a heart check.

Lord, thank you for saving me and making me aware of my sinful nature.  Thank you for showing me my need for you in this life.  Thank you most of all that you didn’t just save me from the penalty of my sin – which would have been more than enough, but you reconciled me to yourself so that I could walk in light with you daily.  I pray that you will bring my sin to the forefront of my mind immediately so I can learn and repent, and enjoy the closeness of you all the days of my life.  In your name, – Amen.

One side or the other

I hate conflict.  Ask anyone that knows me.  I don’t like to argue to the point that I offend.  I often spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make everyone happy.  I would have been a good mediator – trying to find the best solution for both sides (so long as no one was mad at me at the end of the day).

From a personal perspective, it’s a dangerous line to walk.  Continuing on this idea of profiling a lukewarm lifestyle, trying to balance the line between Christ and the world is a dangerous game to play.  Someone with my personality tends to want to be accepted – no matter the cost.  That plays right into the next statement about the lukewarm

Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict.  They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they are care more about what people think of their actions then what God thinks of their hearts and lives.

Confession time.  I love my church.  I love the opportunity to serve God.  I feel alive when I am with other believers.  I feel like I can praise God without fear of having to defend it.  I can truly open up during worship and feel the love of my Savior.  Church is my “safe” place.  When I leave through the doors, something happens.  I tend to laugh at the wrong things.  I find myself agreeing with others when they make fun of something or someone.  I hear words come out of my mouth that are shameful.  I don’t say a word when someone takes the Lord’s name in vain, or even goes as far as to mock the Christian faith.  I fail to live for God when I am in the world.  That statement describes me in so many ways.

So what is the answer?  Do we just surround ourselves with like-minded believers and avoid those that may cause conflict within our heart?  I don’t think that’s the answer.  Jesus gave us all a great mission – tell everyone about me.  We are called to go out into the world and spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.  I think the answer is to simply live my life in a way that leaves no doubt about which side of the road I stand on.  I can be in this world, but not conformed to it.  In fact I am to be a shining light so that others may find Jesus through the life I live.  Does that mean I am the perfect example for others to follow?  Absolutely not, I am a sinner like every other person.  But I am called to live a life that reflects what Christ has done inside of me to overcome my sin problem.

Living for Christ means I am going to have to make tough choices, sometimes in the face of conflict.  It may cost me a friend, it may cost me a way of life.  I can be in this world, but I can’t conform to what this world says is right and acceptable.  Jesus stood in the midst of sinners, but He was never like them.  In the end, all that matters is what I did for Jesus.  He sees my inner most secrets, motives and desires.  It’s easy to put on the false face and “fit in” but I’m only fooling myself.  Christ knows my heart and what He thinks is eternally important.

Jesus was clear on what he thought about hypocrisy.  “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” (Matthew 23:5-7 NIV).

Jesus was describing an attitude of worrying more about what people in this world think of me, rather than having a heart that longs for Christ and letting that be what defines me. In the end, all that matters is what we did with Christ and for Christ.  I have given my life to Christ.  I am saved.  When I stand before Him, all my works will be judged by fire.  Only those things done for Christ will withstand, all else will be consumed and gone.  I don’t want to spend my whole life trying to gain the acceptance and approval of men, only to stand empty-handed before the Lord.

Lord, today I pray that you will change my perspective from worldly acceptance to eternal holiness.  I pray that your strength and courage will fill me when the choice seems difficult and that I’ll live a life that is focused on what you think.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Moving from charity to sacrifice

Late at night, sometimes closer to midnight – that’s when I usually get to enjoy a full uninterrupted bowl of cereal.  I love cereal.  I always have.  I think it is what sustained me as a growing child.  My daughter, who is now 5, loves cereal too.  Usually it’s Daddy’s cereal she loves the best.  She is like our black lab, running from anywhere in the house when she hears the cereal hit the bowl.  I’ll ask her, “do you want a bowl?”  The answer is almost always no, yet when I begin to eat…there she is mouth wide open fully expecting MY CEREAL.  I give in.  She ends up eating over half the bowl.  This is almost always how the scenario plays out.  I have come to learn that I will probably always sacrifice my bowl of cereal to satisfy her instant hunger.  That’s a terrible example of charity and sacrifice, but what came to mind as I thought of how I approach the idea of charity.

What is charity?  Charity is defined as the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.  We have all given to charity at some point or another.  But how did we give?  Was it what we were comfortable giving, or was it all we had to give?  Did we choose to deny our wants so we could give more, outside of our comfort zone?  Is my giving charitable, or is it more to the side of sacrificial?  It’s easy to give up half of my cereal…there is more in the box.  Sometimes that’s exactly how I approach my monetary or my time giving – always with the thought that there is more in the safe, or room in the schedule.

Continuing to look at this idea of being lukewarm, we need to explore charitable giving.  In the Bible, Jesus gives a clear picture of how our giving should be more on the side of sacrificial, than just giving what we are comfortable with.  In the book of Luke Jesus is teaching the disciples and observes people coming with money offerings for the temple treasury.  He observes the wealthy as they put their gifts into the plate, probably without any concern on their face, maybe just out of habit.  He then makes an observation of a poor widow who drops two very small copper coins into the plate.  “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4 NIV).

The next statement on the profile of the lukewarm says lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church…as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.  If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so.

If we have a little extra – not if we have anything, but if we have anything left over, we’ll give it to God.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church…as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.  If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so.[/pullquote]

This statement resonated as I thought about how I have approached giving.  My goal has always been to tithe 10%.  That’s what the Bible tells me to do.  But if I truly want to make Christ my all, I have to willing to give what is needed, not just what is required.  I have to trust in God’s provision for me and my family and give.  There’s a difference between need and required here.

The rich were giving what was required.  They never missed it.  I may have 10% spelled out in my monthly budget and after a while, I don’t miss it.  But am I giving what I didn’t plan, out of funds that are not guaranteed?  Our giving doesn’t have to be reckless.  I don’t think we are called to give every penny we have, and quit paying our bills.  But I think we are called to give freely what God has laid on our heart and then trust in Him to provide for our needs.  God’s ultimate goal is a relationship with us where we see Him as our creator and where we recognize our need for Him.  Once we recognize our need for Him, He wants all of us.  Every part.  He is calling us to sacrifice our heart and mind for Him so that in all we do, we are serving the Lord.

God, today I thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to You.  You have never failed to provide for my every need and I choose to live a life of trust in your love and provision.  Give me a heart, Lord, that freely gives all that you have blessed me with, so that your name might be proclaimed throughout the whole world.  Give me a sacrificial heart that gives without hesitation.  In your name I pray, – Amen.

Lukewarm unbeliever

Reflecting back on the past year, our youth pastor challenged the students (and me) to read a list of statements under the title of “Profile of the Lukewarm”.  It only took about 5 minutes to feel the weight of God speaking directly to me as if to say, “this is for you too.”  God has challenged me to step up my game and He has used a couple of simple pages of powerful statements to help me see what many of the areas of my life really look like to Him and what they should look like to Him.

Before I jump straight to the first statement, I felt it important to share definitions and synonyms of the word lukewarm.  According to the dictionary, lukewarm is used to describe food as being tepid, or intended to be served hot, but instead served “barely warm”.  It’s also used to describe people or actions as unenthusiastic, indifferent, and noncommittal.  In short, if you’re lukewarm, you’re pretty much just here – nothing outstanding or noticeable.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#003366″ class=”” size=””]LUKEWARM PEOPLE attend church fairly regularly.  It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians” do, so they go.[/pullquote]

That idea of just being here is what sticks out.  The first statement we read said this, “Lukewarm people attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians” do, so they go.  On the outside, going to church is what “good Christians” who know the benefit of being together with like-minded believers, do.  We are called to come together often to learn, to pray, and to build each other up so that we are stronger in a fallen world.  But what this statement really speaks to is the person that attends church simply because it’s another bullet on the schedule.  Because of their community status, or their family, it’s what is expected.  They put nothing into it, and they take nothing away from it.  What is lacking in this statement is doing something with church.  There are many people who will find themselves in eternal separation from God that never missed a Sunday service. Church doesn’t save you.  Church doesn’t make you a part of the family of God.  I think this is exactly what Christ was pointing out in the book of Revelation when he speaks of spitting the lukewarm out of His mouth.  It’s a picture of Christ expelling those from His presence that never made a decision to give their life to Christ, and accept His free gift of salvation.

Lukewarm people, or non-committed, indifferent people may attend a church service, but never let God have their heart.

While this statement certainly speaks to the non-believer, I think it has application for the believer as well.  Why do I attend church?  Is it merely out of duty, because I believe I am supposed to be there? Or am I going because I  want to be there to worship my Lord, to share with my fellow believers, to build them up and also be renewed myself?  The answer should be simple, but one we should examine.  While I firmly believe that the idea of a lukewarm Christian is not possible – you are either saved or not saved, I think we can be in “seasons” of lukewarm behavior.

Lord, today, I thank you for saving me.  I thank you that I am all-in according to your promise of salvation for all those who believe and accept your free gift.  Lord, I commit to a Godly attitude toward being in your house for worship and fellowship.  I thank you for the desire you have given me to be near to your people when our church doors are open.  I pray for your wisdom as I examine my life according to your word, and I pray for the courage and strength to follow you, no matter the cost.  In your name I pray – Amen.

New Year of “More”

As the ball dropped on 2016…2017 opened with a sense of freshness.  Every new year is like this for me (except for Y2K – totally convinced everything would go black for a few minutes during that one).  I take a deep breath and, amidst the chaos of screaming teenagers, silently thank the Lord for another year to be alive.  Over the next couple days, I have prayed and thought about what this year could bring.  What do I want 2017 to be for me?  What do I want it to be for others because of me?  I came across a post from a great Godly woman who said, “this year will be the year of one-more’s”.  It was described as a year to reach deeper and farther into her faith, into her friends and family, into her neighbors.  One more dinner date, one more afternoon conversation, one more devotional, one more chapter in her Bible.  A year of one-more’s.

I think the Lord, used this post to speak to me, and help me understand what this year should bring.  Simply, more.  During our end-of-year celebration with our youth group, we had a one-day retreat focusing on defining a lukewarm Christianity and contrasting that with an obsessed Christian.  What an eye opener.  I found myself identifying with more and more characteristics of the lukewarm than I did with the obsessed.  It was eye-opening to think about what I am doing with Christ.  I made a decision to follow Him in faith, believing that He accomplished what I could not – paying my sin debt and saving my eternal soul.  But is that where it ended for me?  Looking back at the last 15 years, what I have I really done with Christ that is eternal and lasting?  Sure, I have served Him in many ways, but when that is compared to the ways I have run from Him, that list doesn’t really look that good.

So, I have resolved through much prayer to make this a year of “more” for my life.  More focus on the things that I am called to do as a believer.  More attention to the things that make me lukewarm.  More determination to take hold of what Christ so freely gave to me, so that I can live out more for Him.  More focus on the things that will last for eternity, not just the temporal now.  More faith that Christ can  use me in ways I don’t think possible and more willingness to let Him have control of all the parts of me.  More.

Father, I thank you for the blessing of life.  I thank you for your finished work on Calvary, your death for my sins, and your resurrection for my life.  Thank you for never leaving me, never putting me away, never taking your eye off me, even when I was so quick to do the same to you.  I pray for the courage to take hold of what you have given me and to use my gifts to make an eternal impact for you.  I also pray for the courage to open up my whole life to you, and give you all of me, regardless of the cost, for I know the cost is nothing compared to the reward of you.  In Jesus name – Amen.